Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Adult Child and Parent Relationships

The parent child relationship is constantly changing. From a newborn's total dependency on the parent to the geriatric's dependency on their adult child, through crawling to walking to running to driving a car, to having to tell a parent that they can no longer drive, it's the natural life-cycle of a family. Some families struggle through the changes. The parents aren't ready for their child to grow up or they push their child towards independence. The child wants to climb and the parent wants them safely on the ground. The parent wants the child to use the potty and the child isn't ready to leave diapers behind. The child is ready to stay out late with friends and the parent isn't ready to trust them on their own. The child is ready to be an adult and take responsibility for their life and their parent isn't ready to let go of their illusion of control. The child doesn't feel ready to leave home and yet the parent feels the need to push them out of the house. The child may not feel ready for their parent's dependency and being responsible for their own life as well as that of their parent. The parent may resent their adult child's involvement in their life decisions or the dependency that can come with aging.

The families I know that have had the smoothest transitions, who have passed through the stages and ages of family life with the most grace and humor and love, are the families who have based their relationships on respect, truly unconditional love, and acceptance of each family member as the individual they are. In these families the relationships change gradually over the years. The children have been making decisions and choices and learning who they are and where their passions lie. The parents have been supporting their child as they all learn and grow together, being actively involved in their child's daily life. The child trusts the parents to be there no matter what, the parents trust the child to reach out for help when it's needed. Over the years this naturally transitions to larger and larger life decisions and choices, greater trust and a shift to where the parents know that the child is there for them just as much as they have been there for their child. The mutual trust and respect provides them with a solid foundation for relationships as adults, not just as parents and children.

In families with parenting that is based on control through punishment, rewards, and conditional approval this natural progression can fail to take place. The relationship between the parent and the child does not have a foundation of trust and respect, the child often reaches adulthood still trying to win their parent's love and approval. The parent is often still trying to control the child in subtle and not so subtle ways. Since the natural progression in the relationship, from child to parent into adult to adult, did not take place gradually the parent may struggle with knowing when to start treating their child like an adult.

When should we start treating a child like an adult? Often when a question or statement is made along these lines someone will jump in and say "Children aren't adults! You can't expect a two year old to know not to run out into the street!" Let me be very clear about what I'm saying so as to avoid those types of comments. I'm not talking about behaviors or developmentally appropriate environments or anything remotely along the lines of children being allowed or expected to do things that are not safe. I am talking about relationships and how we interact with other people. Put another way it could be said, "When should we start interacting with a child as if they were a person?" Well guess what? Children are people. They are born with preferences and personality and unique abilities. As Horton said, "A person's a person no matter how small."

When we recognize the person inside that tiny baby, and we encourage the individual exploring the world as a toddler, and support that child following their passions and are there for the teen when they need a place to come home to after they've been adventuring, we feel comfortable in our relationship with the adult our child becomes.

If, in the future, I become a parent who is dependent on my children for care I'm going to have to depend on that relationship with my children . It is my hope that my children will continue to treat me as a person even if I'm unable to care for myself. I certainly don't want my children saying, "Mom, you can't have ice-cream until after you eat your broccoli." That's one of my more selfish reasons for parenting unconditionally. :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Approval Junkie

I recently wrote a short note, published it on facebook and then asked my husband if it was okay. He responded that he wasn't going to tell me that anymore. If you had seen inside my mind in that moment it's likely you would have been laughing or sadly saying "this woman needs serious help." My first internal reaction was shock and panic and desperation wrapped into a whirring ball that quickly lodged in my stomach. How could he not tell me if what I was writing was okay? I needed that feedback! I needed that approval and affirmation and "good job."

That instant of desperation gave me a glimpse of my inner approval junkie. The people pleasing middle child perfectionist who is afraid to speak up without preplanning what to say, wants everyone to be happy, wants to avoid conflict, and would rather have people assume she has nothing to say than to open her mouth and risk sounding stupid is still hiding inside. She shows up after almost every social event when I turn to Jess and ask, "Did I do okay?" She comes out when I'm trying to decide what the heck to wear. She doubts my ability to choose paint colors, raise children, write anything meaningful and coherent, and to handle new and unknown situations. She has been internalizing messages of approval and disapproval since I was born and she knows that I should not trust myself to know what to do, how to do it, or if what I'm doing measures up. She also knows that I shouldn't trust my own emotions, that at any given time I'm over reacting, afraid of something that is nothing to be afraid of, or being a worry wort.

As a parent I want my children to grow up knowing who they are, not internalizing who they should be.

When you internalize from birth who you should be in order to gain approval or love or affection from the adults in your life (or to avoid pain, punishment and criticism) it is amazingly difficult to know as an adult who you really are. It's disconcerting to realize that you aren't who you are, you are who other people wanted you to become.

I'm pretty sure I was 21 years old before I made a major decision that did not have my parents' approval. Here I am, 21 years after that, no longer seeking anyone's approval, but still struggling to figure out who I am beneath the ingrained messages and conditioned responses. It turns out I am many things I used to think that I was not, including: creative, smart, brave, and fun. My self-discovery continues and my inner approval junkie's need to surface is decreasing as I learn to separate my own voice from the messages from my childhood. My children and I are discovering who we are as we explore life and our interests together. What a blessing that they didn't have to live for two decades before they started this journey.



Alfie Kohn mentions "praise junkies" in the following essay: "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job." http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm

You might also want to read "Parental Love with Strings Attached"
http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/conditional.htm

and for the larger picture read his book "Unconditional Parenting."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family Reunion

Last night we returned home from a family reunion. Admittedly we were anxious about attending because we live and parent differently from any of our relatives. We went into the reunion planning on talking about our life minimally so as not to create conflict or open ourselves to criticism. As it turned out, this reunion was yet another reminder that we are related to a remarkable group of people. Jess and I spent an incredible number of hours during the visit discussing how we parent and our way of life with relatives from different generations: grandparents, moms and dads, and future moms and dads. This happened because people sought us out and asked us questions. It continued because everyone involved entered into the conversations from a place of mutual respect and trust and openness.

Family reunions are fascinating to me because you have a unique opportunity to witness multiple generations of parenting in the same moment. You learn more about how you have gotten to where you are and you see how different parenting and environments, as well as the individual's journey, affect relationships. This window to the family's past can be threatening or painful to those who are a product of, or the creators of, the family's more recent parenting history. At the same time it can be daunting to those who are now taking up the role of parent and who want to change some of the family parenting patterns while still remaining respectful of their parents and grandparents.

In our family, as with most families, there has been pain and hurt and damage done in the name of "good parenting." There is a strong demand for perfection and an inclination to hide weaknesses (mental or physical) from people inside as well as outside the family. There is also an undeniable desire to be a "good parent". The challenge is in moving forward toward better parenting without hurting others by implying that their parenting was not good enough. In truth, that is not within our control. No matter how sensitive I am, I cannot control how someone else will feel about what I say or what I write. It is never my intention to hurt those who have parented or are parenting differently. However, it is most important to me that I do everything possible to facilitate better parenting for the present generation and the generations to come.

During the reunion there were times, primarily around meals or activities, when individuals were asked to stand up and share about their lives. The idea was that this way everyone would get to catch up even if they didn't find time to visit during the activities over the weekend. The last dinner of the reunion there was a push to get in the remaining people. The younger children were getting louder and louder as they waited to go paddle boating on the lake. Some of the kids began repeatedly running in one door, through the room, and out the other door. The parents scolded and resorted to using middle names and increasingly stern voices. When it was mentioned that I had not yet shared I realized that I could not. Instead I said that I didn't think it was right to make the kids wait and that perhaps we could do the sharing later in the evening. This comment was brushed aside and other people continued sharing. I excused myself from my table and went out to check on the children who had been sent out into the hall to play, without adult supervision. When I got to the door I found that it was locked and I'm afraid at that point I mouthed a word that most people in my extended family would find extremely offensive. Upon unlocking the door I found a small boy outside on the verge of tears who couldn't get to his parents (in fairness the door at the other end of the hall was open, but being three and upset he didn't have the awareness to know.) I invited the kids to come outside with me and they ended up running around in the sprinkler.

I never did have the opportunity to stand up and share. My not sharing, the fact that I spoke up about the needs of the children and my departure to meet their needs, says more about my development as a parent and a person than anything I could have said. In my life the needs and expectations of children are at least as important as the needs and expectations of adults. In my life children are not sent out to play in the hall or made to feel less important than adult conversations and agendas. It comes back to relationships. My relationship with these children and meeting their needs is more important than the expectations adults have regarding my behavior.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Arbitrary Parenting

If asked, most of us would say that we parent with integrity, or at least that we try to parent with integrity. We would also say that we treat our children respectfully. Looking at the relationships of the parents and teens I know, it becomes clear that parents who do parent with integrity and who are respectful of their children continue to have a positive, loving, mutually respectful relationship through the teen years and into adulthood.

To parent with integrity we must avoid being arbitrary. When I decided to blog about arbitrary parenting I decided I should look up the word to make sure it accurately expressed what I was thinking.

Main Entry: ar·bi·trary
Pronunciation: \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē, -ˌtre-rē\
Function: adjective
Date: 15th century

1 : depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by law
2 a : not restrained or limited in the exercise of power : ruling by absolute authority b : marked by or resulting from the unrestrained and often tyrannical exercise of power
3 a : based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something b : existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will   (Merriam-Webster)



It turns out that "arbitrary" is painfully accurate when it comes to many parenting practices. Parents rely on their own discretion. Some parents do practice the "unrestrained and often tyrannical exercise of power." However, all parents have times when their parenting is "based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something."

We all do this. We make a decision based on what we prefer or what is convenient for us, the parent, rather than out of necessity. When our children see through this our parenting can seem "random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will." When we parent this way we lose integrity and we are not being respectful of our children.

Arbitrary parenting happens when we fail to be honest with our children about why we are making a decision. We say that something bad will happen when there are many possible outcomes.
"If you eat candy it will rot your teeth."
"If you play in the street you will be hit by a car."
"If you don't drink your milk you won't grow up big and strong."
We do this to manipulate our child to do or not do something because we want to protect them or simply because it makes our life easier. The truth is that some people eat candy and their teeth are fine. There are some streets that you can play in safely and there are many kids who play in the street every day and don't get hit by a car. Many children in the world don't drink milk and they grow up just fine. Your children will eventually notice the kids who do the things you don't let them do who are still alive and doing just fine. That doesn't mean you should let your child do whatever they want with no regard for their health and safety. It does mean you need to do your research and be honest. It's important to explain to our children what our concerns are and then discuss ways to meet their needs while supporting their safety and health. Every time your child finds a lack of truth in the information you have provided you lose credibility in their eyes. When your child feels you have been manipulative it also leaves them feeling frustrated, betrayed or angry.

From the age of 3 my eldest has drawn on her own arms. When she attended middle school she found that most of her friends were not allowed to draw on their arms. Some of them had been told that they would get ink poisoning from drawing on their skin. Was this true? My daughter and I went on-line and found that you would have to drink at least three ballpoint pens worth of ink to get ink poisoning. She returned to school and told her friends the truth. Were the friend's parents relieved to know that their kids could happily draw on themselves without the fear of ink poisoning? I'm guessing some of the kids didn't bother to tell their parents the truth because their parents wouldn't have responded well to being "contradicted." The other parents probably didn't appreciate our fact finding because they were using the fear of poisoning as a way to control their kids. The parents didn't want their kids drawing on their skin because the parents didn't like the way it looked, or because of what others might think about their parenting or their child. Instead of being honest and talking this through with their kid, they provided false information.

Parents set arbitrary limits all the time. In an effort to parent with integrity and to be respectful of my children I've learned to question my motives. Why am I saying "no"? What would happen if I said "yes"? Am I saying this to make my life easier? Am I saying this out of a place of fear or to control my child?

We don't have punishment in our house, however, in many households this is another area fraught with arbitrary punishment. "Because you broke that dish you are grounded from friends for two days." "If you don't go to bed right now you can't have a friend over tomorrow." Even so called "natural consequence" are often arbitrary and manipulated by parents. "If you don't do your homework you can't play video games." In truth, if you don't do your homework your homework doesn't get done. The natural consequences of that may be a lower grade but there are no natural consequences that can take place at home relating to homework, which comes from school.

In our house we also don't have rewards, these are often even more arbitrary than punishments. "If you don't wet the bed you get a gold star. Once you have 10 gold stars we'll buy ice cream." Seriously? If a child is wetting the bed they are doing it in their sleep and have no control over that. Gold stars and ice cream have nothing to do with physical development or dry beds.

Every time you feel that you must set a limit ask yourself if you are parenting with integrity and respect. There are limits in life, but those that are "set" by parents are often arbitrary in nature. When you think you need to set a limit instead start a discussion, and make sure it involves the truth and input from your child. Parenting with integrity and respect does not involve rewards and punishment. Rewards and punishment are used to control and manipulate our kids. Parenting by control and manipulation is counter intuitive to parenting with integrity and respect.

Parenting with integrity and respect requires us to involve our children in the conversation. We must be honest and we must not be arbitrary. If we say "no" then we need a real, fact based reason why. If we can get to the teen years with our parental integrity intact, with our children knowing that we are willing to help them explore the options and answers, that we are not trying to control or manipulate their behavior to make our life easier, and we are truly supportive of the person they are, our relationship with them will reflect this.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Expectations

Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children. That includes your expectations.

As parents it is hard not to concern ourselves with what other people think about our children and our parenting. (Even if you don't have kids it can be hard not to let concerns about what others think about you affect your mental and emotional state.) When you are in the grocery store w/ a screaming child, or when you snap at your child's simple request while shopping, you start to feel like everyone is watching you and you just know that in their minds they are judging you as a parent. And that's with strangers! It gets even more difficult when the people watching are family members and you know they are judging your parenting and your children because they say things out loud.

My husband and I continuously seek to improve our parenting. We have high and lofty ideals to which we aspire. Knowing and admitting that we fall short we do not give up as failures, we do not lay blame, we do not criticize each other. Instead, we support and encourage each other, and we seek out friends who share the same ideals and who will help hold us accountable. We have found a path that is incredibly compatible with who we are as individuals and as a family. This isn't some random experiment we are trying with our children. If you really need them, we can show you scientific studies that back us up. More importantly, families who have traveled this path have shown us that it supports children in their growth and development as healthy, joy filled people who follow their passions and are comfortable in their own skin. It also builds amazing family relationships.

When I focus on the expectations of others instead of my expectations for myself as a parent I run the risk of damaging my relationship with my child. In the past I know that I have repeatedly failed in this area. There have been too many times when some one has been disrespectful to my kids, discounted their feelings, been critical of their hair or dress, or manipulated their behavior through bribes or guilt, when I have failed to adequately step in and protect or support my kids. At times I have pushed my children to do things just to meet other people's expectations instead of showing them respect myself. Why? I was concerned that if I stepped in I would upset the adult involved, or I would fail to remain calm and unemotional, or the adult would think I was over reacting or being overly critical. It was easier to push my child to conform than to stand up to another adult. Painfully true. Particularly true when the other adult was a relative.

Changing family patterns is tough. There are generations of relationships that have gotten us where we are today. In our family we only spend a month's worth of days out of each year with relatives, which makes it harder to practice new ways of communicating and easier to ignore hurtful patterns. It also makes our growth as people and parents more obvious because we are compared to who we were a year ago, not who we were last Sunday at dinner.

Next week we will be attending a family reunion. We have always enjoyed our time with the larger extended family. This year, however, feels like a test. Having made radical changes in our parenting and daily life over the past year, I know that it is more important than ever that I keep my focus on my relationship with my children. If I get caught up in the expectations of others I will let us all down, if I can stay present for my kids I can make strides in changing long standing family patterns. For me that change begins with this:

Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children. That includes your expectations.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Because I said so!

Two of my girls were talking w/ a friend who said, "You know, when your parents say 'Because I said so!'" My eldest responded, "My parents don't say that." Wow! How cool. I don't say that!

When a parent says "Because I said so!" and "The answer is No!" and "Don't argue with me!" it sends a message to kids. That message is stated clearly in "Matilda" by Roald Dahl, "I'm right and your wrong, I'm big and your little, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Have you ever said "No!" in response to your child and then wished you could take it back? Here's a little secret, you can. Well, that shouldn't be a secret and it's not a little thing. It's huge to our kids! It's important that they know we are listening to them and thinking before we respond. I'll admit that I used to be fairly quick with "no" answers. My first reaction to almost anything was negative. How much more useful to at least say, "I need a minute to think about that" or "let's talk about that." In the process of decreasing my no's I learned that once I said "No!" and realized that perhaps no wasn't the best answer, I could take it back. This wasn't confusing to my children. It actually strengthened my relationship with my children. I would say, "I can tell this is really important to you. Let's talk and see how we can work this out."

The more I am able to be open to their wants and needs and ideas, the more comfortable they become in expressing their feelings and sharing their hearts desires. The more we take the time to discuss how we can meet everyone's needs in any given moment, the more they trust that I am taking their needs seriously, the more creative we all become in working to make sure everyone's needs are met.

To me, "Because I said so!" isn't good enough. My children expect better than that from me. They expect me to take their feelings into consideration. They trust me to be respectful and not lay down arbitrary rules just because I can. They need to know that I'm not going to make them do something just because I'm big and they are little. I'm only going to ask them to do something because there's a need or a real reason. They expect an honest answer if they ask about that reason. They expect to be listened to if they have a suggestion of a different way to do something.

"I'm right and your wrong, I'm big and your little, and there's nothing you can do about it." If you think about it, this is the voice of a bully. Some parents do parent through bullying. They parent through shame and scorn and belittling. They parent by control and making themselves feel bigger and their child feel even smaller. There are many problems with this type of parenting. The hurt and pain and anger that the child has stuffed inside may come boiling out, particularly during the teenage years. The child treats others the way they have been treated by their parent and struggles socially or in society. The child gets tired of being bullied and leaves as soon as they can, and doesn't return. The mental, emotional and/or physical health of the child may suffer. Then one day the child become a parent and they get to be big, they get to be in control, they get to be right and the pain gets passed on to a new generation.

Our children never need to do something just because we say so, there needs to be a real reason or need. And even then we need to take into consideration what we are interrupting with our request. It's rude to expect anyone to drop what they are doing to help us unless it's really urgent. We show respect for their time and interest when we say, "When you are done with that, would you be willing to help me carry in the groceries?" or "When you get to the end of that chapter would you like to go to the park?"

Some times the answer may end up being no, but first let's look for all the ways we can say yes. Our children have many wonderful and creative solutions. By making sure we understand what they are asking and then engaging in a conversation with them they feel respected and know we care, even if in the end they can't have what they want.

Our kids won't need to argue with us if we are already open to dialogue. If we have created a pattern of thoughtful discussions, and not of trying to control our children or the outcome of the discussion, we won't need to argue with our children.

We aren't right and they aren't wrong. We are all learning and growing together. We may be big now, but they are growing and won't be little for long, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Practicing Imperfection

"Imperfectionists Welcome Here" focused on one aspect of perfectionism. In summary that would be "people live imperfectly and this causes them pain because they feel that they aren't good enough." There are different manifestations of perfectionism that cause people pain and another could be summed up as "people feel that they must always be perfect and strive to maintain perfection in their every day lives." I have suffered from this kind of perfectionism, too.

In 12 days I will be heading off to a family reunion. I have not dieted or exercised in preparation for this reunion. That's actually a big deal. I am not freaking out internally about what others might say regarding my weight or how I look. Those of you who know me in person may say, "Big deal! You look great." And you're right, I do look great. However, in my family of origin and my extended family being at your "ideal weight" is really important. Being healthy is important, but some how being thin manages to over shadow being healthy. And even if no one says "Wow, I can't believe how much weight you've gained," they will comment approvingly about those who are thin. They will also say, "I almost didn't recognize you with a double chin." "You won't get a husband if you don't lose weight and dress better." "Have you noticed how thin my wife is?"

You may have noticed the quotes around "ideal weight" above. What is your ideal weight? Is my ideal weight determined by some height and weight chart a the doctor's office? Is it determined by the size my parents or my spouse think that I should be? I have no idea what my ideal weight is. My ideal weight is whatever weight I end up at when I'm eating a healthy diet of foods that leave me feeling satisfied and content, with moderate exercise on a regular basis. My ideal weight is the weight that my body ends up at when I am physically and mentally and emotionally healthy. My ideal weight is not some arbitrary number on a scale that I need to maintain through constant focus on diet and strenuous exercise. My ideal weight is where I am when I am healthy in all areas of my life.

That's huge. Do you know how many years I struggled to maintain my weight because of perfectionism? If you are constantly trying to be at the perfect weight and trying to have the perfect body, if you feel bad about yourself because you have gained a pound or missed a work out at the gym or can't wear a certain size jeans you might want to consider why. On the other hand, I'm not going to judge you if you are thin! I have friends who are naturally thin, I have friends who love to run marathons, climb mountains and set physically challenging goals for themselves. For Themselves. If you are truly doing it for yourself, because it brings you joy, fills you with life, makes you happy, then go for it. But if you are doing it from a place of needing to be perfect, to meet the expectations of someone else, to get approval, then perhaps it's time to practice imperfection. Play around with different levels of healthy eating or exercise or fitness until you figure out where you feel comfortable. Give yourself permission to eat imperfectly, which should be fairly easy since there is no one perfect way to eat.

As mentioned in my previous blog, a clean house is another area that pushes our perfectionistic buttons. Do you panic and spend three days cleaning your house because your parents are coming to visit. Three exhausting days where you are stressed and tired and yell at your children? Does your house need to be perfect all the time because someone might stop by? Do you work to maintain a perfectly clean house at all times because anything less is unacceptable? Perfectly clean houses, like perfect bodies, only exist on the cover of magazines. Why do we think our houses need to be perfect at all times?

If you are striving to be perfect in any area and that is causing stress inside you, or in your family or other relationships, it's time to start practicing imperfection. Seek joy, seek happiness, find a balance (but remember that balance is fluid, not rigid!), and practice dressing imperfectly, writing imperfectly, playing imperfectly, cleaning imperfectly. It's fine to give the kitchen floor a 3 minutes wipe up rather than moving every last thing off of it before you mop. You can leave those dishes on the counter to be washed tomorrow. You can take the day off from cleaning and go play at the beach. Skip the exercise DVD and put on some crazy music and dance with your kids. Don't put on any makeup before you leave the house! Refrain from wiping the chocolate smudge off your child's face.

What will happen if we aren't perfect? Well, I guess we'll be like everyone else! We might even find ourselves relaxing and enjoying life more. We will also pass along the message to our kids that differences are okay, that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful, and that imperfection is a natural part of being human.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Our House

It's considered a parental right to say "My house, My rules." "If you live in my house you have to follow my rules." No choice, not a request, no room for discussion. Actually, there is an implied choice, "Follow my rules or leave my house." This week we learned that a teen we know was making that choice, the choice not to return home. The parent was angry, frustrated and sad. And yet the parent wasn't going to change positions and when the teen came home the punishment would be spending the summer with the non-custodial parent. Which only made the teen less inclined to return home.

Problem teen? Not from my perspective. I find this particular teen to be smart and thoughtful, creative and compassionate. Problem parent would be more accurate. A parent who is more concerned that the child is missing classes and failing school than about the child ending up living in danger on the street. A parent who has failed to create a relationship of trust with their child, so the child doesn't trust that the parent would keep any agreement or compromise that might be worked out so the child may feel safe returning home.

Are rules more important than children? What is more important to you than your child? Most of us will quickly give the correct answer and say,"nothing is more important than my child!" with a hint of self-righteousness, tinged w/ indignation that anyone would dare suggest other wise. That may be the "correct answer" but is it the truth? What would your child say is more important than she or he is? The truth is in your child's perspective, how they feel, not in correct answers.

What is more important than my child? Is it:

what others think of my child, my parenting, or my family?
having a clean house?
my child doing chores?
good grades?
completed homework?
compliant behavior?
attending church?
sleeping through the night?
facebook?
computer games?
money, a job, or having nice things?
eating whole foods?
your child's weight?

What rules, expectations, ideals of how life should be, or personal values do you have that come between you and your child? What causes conflict or breaks down the relationship and trust between you and your child? What are you holding onto that isn't helping you understand who your child really is or who they are becoming?

What would happen if you let go? Choose one thing that is presently causing conflict between you and your child and think about what would happen if you let go. Do you spend every night fighting with your child about homework? What would happen if you didn't? You let go of all judgments and expectations (yours and the schools) surrounding homework. Your child might choose not to do his homework. Is that the end of the world? You child might choose to do homework on his own because he wants to pass the class. You could tell the teacher that homework was causing damage to your family's relationships and your child will not be required to complete homework any longer. There are many options. If you take the time to discuss the situation with your child you may be surprised to find your child has some great ideas on how to resolve the stress. However, that won't happen if your child is angry with you and hurt and feeling frustrated with school and doesn't trust you to listen to his ideas or respond compassionately to his feelings.

Do you fight about a messy bedroom? If it's your child's room, her only personal space in the entire house (provided she has her own room, it may even be the only corner she has) why is it up to you how clean she keeps it? Perhaps she'd like to experiment with different levels of order until she finds what feels comfortable to her. Perhaps she would love to have some help in figuring out a better way to organize so that her room is easier to keep tidy. Perhaps she just doesn't care if her room is clean. Wouldn't you rather have a messy room with a happy, connected, thriving child living in it as opposed to a perfectly clean room with a sullen teen hiding behind the door she just slammed shut? Yes, there are a lot of places between those extremes, but for making a point extremes are more effective.

In our house we focus on the relationships. We live in our house, not my house, not the house owned and paid for by parents, but the house of a family learning and growing together. We don't have rules. We have discussions. We have flexibility. We have five people who are all still discovering who they are and what they love to do best. We have respect. We have trust. We have values and principals and beliefs, but even those are subject to change as we continue to learn and grow.

Welcome to Our House.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Imperfectionists Welcome Here

Do you live in a house where the piles resemble potential archeological digs? Does your laundry live on the couch waiting to be folded? Folded? People actually fold their clean clothes? Yes, and some people also put it away in drawers before the kids dig through the folded piles. Do you wash pots as you need them, as in right when you need them, at dinner time, to boil water. Do you clear a place on the couch when friends stop by so they have a place to sit down?

Some of my absolute favorite people have messy houses. In fact, the coolest people I know live in unconventional, creative, cluttered spaces that feel comfortable the minute I walk in. I feel at home in other people's chaos, but I feel stressed, embarrassed, and even defeated by my own. When I look at my house, I feel like a failure. And here's the truth, my house will never be clean enough.

It will never be clean enough.

Do you have some area of your life where you feel "not enough." Is there something that makes you feel like a failure? You don't cook well enough. You aren't thin enough. You don't make enough money. You aren't patient enough with your children.

Whose standard aren't we living up to? Whose voice is saying those words? Dig deep, be honest. It's a pretty safe guess that you have a parent living in your head, belittling you, telling you you aren't enough. If it isn't a parent, it's probably a teacher or some other adult from your childhood.

My house will never be clean enough. It's true. In my mind if it isn't perfect, it isn't clean enough. Since it's never going to be perfect, it will never be clean enough to meet the perfectionistic expectations of that inner parental voice. It seems that I can give up completely and condemn myself to a life of unhappiness living in a filthy home, or I can embrace the imperfect. I can tell that voice I have had enough of impossible expectations that don't match the person I've become and the life I've chosen to live. I can experiment and play, and find the balance of chaos and cleanliness that makes me feel comfortable and at home.

It's o.k. to be imperfect. It's good to be imperfect. There is great beauty in the imperfections. For me it's time to embrace the imperfect, to admit that I will never ever be perfect and I'm okay with that. In fact, I don't think there's any other way to be. We are all imperfect.

Today my house is clean enough. Today I am thin enough. Today I am good enough.
Imperfection rocks!

My greatest hope is that my children will grow up knowing that they are enough, in this moment, as they are, no striving necessary, no approval needed, with only their own voice inside their heads.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Whose experience is it?

I've been thinking a lot about discounting and belittling after spending a long weekend at the LIFE is Good Conference. The reason I have been thinking about discounting and belittling is because they weren't present in the communications between parents and children at the conference. No one said to the teens trying to walk on the ceiling, by laying on the lobby floor with their feet in the air, that they should grow up or act their age. When children were hungry they ate food, they weren't told that it wasn't meal time and they had to wait. Parents got creative so they could meet the needs of their children and still go to hear speakers or participate in circle chats. If that wasn't possible they skipped the talk and spent time with their kids. Going to hear a speaker wasn't more important than their child or their relationship with their child. When children came into a conference room looking for a parent the parent didn't shush them, or tell them to wait, the parent quietly reconnected with their child and got up to meet a need if that was required. No one frowned at parents or children as they slipped in and out of rooms, no one grumbled about walkie-talkies or cell phones disrupting. We were glad to see other parents who respected their children, who understood that a child's needs were no less important than an adult's, who wouldn't frown at us when our children were still up at 1:00 in the morning happily hanging out with friends they may not see again until the next conference.

Belittling is fairly straight forward: you say or do something that makes someone else feel smaller and you feel bigger. It is obvious when we say "You are acting like a baby!" but it shows up in many other shaming statements.

Discounting as a word may not be as familiar but if you grew up with it you'll find it easy to recognize. Discounting is when we deny the truth of a situation. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to other people. When a child says, "I'm hungry" and we respond, "You can't be hungry already, we just ate an hour ago!"

Some other discounting statements you may recognize:

"There's nothing to be afraid of!"
"It didn't hurt that bad."
"There's nothing I can do about that."
"You shouldn't be so upset."
"That's not important."
"You need to stop crying right now."
"You don't really mean that."
"She didn't really mean that."

Discounting can take the form of not acknowledging something, of acting as if a person or feeling or situation does not even exist.

When we discount our children's experience we are telling them that they cannot trust themselves, their perceptions or their feelings. "It's not that hot outside." "That movie wasn't scary." "You're a big boy, you don't need me to help you get dressed." The more we discount our children's experiences, the less comfortable they are with coming to us for help. They also learn to rely on other people's interpretations of their life experience. "You'll like this!" "That was fun." "That movie is too scary for you." "You are tired and need to go to bed." "You can't be that tired! You can keep going."

Discounting is the giving up or taking away of power. The opposite of discounting is empowering. When we empower ourselves and our children we are free to be honest about our experiences. Our children can evaluate a situation, express their needs and get those needs met. When we are empowered we respect ourselves and other people. Empowerment is working together to figure out a solution, making sure every one's needs are met, acknowledging that different people experience the same situation from their own unique perspective.

The challenge is that we may not realize we are discounting. We must practice awareness. Paying attention to the comments we make, thinking before we speak, examining what we are reflecting back to our children when we respond to their needs. We need to validate the experiences of our children, not try and modify their perceptions so that we can feel more comfortable. In order to do this we may first need to stop discounting our own experiences and emotions. If we have grown up with discounting in our family of origin we may need to regain trust in our own perceptions, reconnect with our needs and relearn that it is o.k. to get those needs met. We may have to practice respecting our own emotions as well as the emotions of our children. Don't discount discounting, empower yourself and your family. We have the power to be honest about our own life experience. We have the power to respect our children's life experiences, validate their perceptions, and watch them grow up feeling confident, loved, and respectful of other people's life experiences.